In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, a bridge to our future ~Alex Haley
When I graduated from college thirty years ago in May, my mother presented me with a family heirloom. The opal ring-set in twenty karat gold- was given to her by her mother, who in turn, received from her mother. I became the fourth generation to wear this precious piece.
The ring, for me, is a vehicle for family stories-most especially about my late great-grandmother who received the gift from her husband. She was a native of Genoa,Italy ( a red head no less!) who married a Siscilian and then came to America. She bore 16 children (two of whom died in World War II) and had two kitchens in her home. The second was in the third floor attic where she prepared her ravioli and other delectable treats. My mother remembered Sunday dinners at her grandparents house where her grandfather commanded the head of the table and her grandmother stayed in the kitchen waiting for him to order his next course. He would often say, “Old lady get me this.. old lady get me that…”, according to my mother. In fact, my mother told me that her grandmother’s dresses often had black grease marks on the back from leaning against the stove! She had no memory of her grandmother ever sitting down to eat with the family. So, I guess somewhere along the way he must have expressed his appreciation for her dedication and gave her the ring.
I don’t know when my grandmother received the ring; perhaps it was given to her when her mother died. She was definitely the favored child of her father so I can only assume that is how she came to have it given the numbers of sisters she had. My grandmother was a feisty, sometimes ill-tempered woman who often got her way. She enjoyed her whiskey and loved to gamble. In fact, it was during a card game that the ring met its current physical state. My grandmother was having a bad night and was dealt a particularly poor hand. In her frustration, she slammed her hand down, palm side up, chipping a corner of the opal stone. The stone-fragile in nature- could not be reset for risk of shattering it completely.
I believe that my mother was given the ring when she graduated from high school. Or maybe when she married my father; I am not sure. She did not wear it as often as she would have liked for fear of losing the stone. When it became my turn to have it, I too, wore it sporadically for a while. But then, in my mid-twenties I started wearing it daily. I had heard that the oils from your skin kept the ring from drying out and breaking apart. It was then that the ring story took an unusual turn. One night I took it off so I could exercise before leaving for a vacation with my boyfriend and friends. It was a busy time, packing etc. and in my rush I misplaced the ring. I looked all over my apartment but could not find it. I was quite distraught; so much so that I never told my mother.
Fast forward to a year later. I am on my honeymoon in the British Virgin Islands. We arrive at our seaside cottage and begin unpacking. As I take out the last of the items from my very large suitcase, I hear the sound of something rolling across the floor. It was the ring! Apparently it had been stuck in a corner of the suitcase the entire time. From then on, I wore the ring quite regularly and when I didn’t I was careful to place it so as not to lose it again. I don’t think that I ever told my mother about losing it. I wish that I did; she would have gotten a kick out of that story for sure.
For a lot of my married life, I wore the ring on my right hand. When my marriage was going south, I took off my wedding bands more regularly and place the opal there instead. Then I stopped wearing my bands completely and put the ring back on my right hand. I suppose this was a way for me to physically accept my single state. When I became seriously involved with my fiance’, I put the ring back on my left ring finger. It was a perfect way to prevent men from pursuing me and a way for me to show my committment to my new relationship. When I became engaged, the ring was once again resting on my right ring finger.
Today the ring sits on my dresser. Last month, I noticed a new piece had broken off making the already precarious setting even looser. I am quite afraid that it will come off altogether. My hope is that I can find a way to preserve it without shattering the rest of the stone. It is very important to me that I pass it on to a future granddaughter. I want to share the stories of not only the ring but of the women who wore it.